Format: Trade Paperback
Dimensions: 304 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in
Published: December 28, 2004
Publisher: Knopf Canada
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0676976034
ISBN - 13: 9780676976038
Read from the Book
There’s an image I often have of myself, my ur -self before I began to elaborate and embellish it, an image I retain from the last seconds of sleep or recover in a reliable daydream. I’m sitting in a corner of a remote upper room, casting brief glances about me and then tilting my face downwards as though to meditate on what I’ve just seen. In fact I have seen nothing because no one else is in the room and there is no furniture. It may be, it can hardly be anywhere else, the unused attic room of my childhood home in Amsterdam, that tall narrow Leidsegracht house -- the attic room where I would go in late March when the weather turned a little warmer, to check on the dead flies at the window ledges. They meant, that random spatter, another winter gone, and in my rudimentary way I was taking note of this sort of thing even then. If this is interesting at all it’s because the passage of time is by far the deepest thing I know about life, and, in an inverse way, about art. Also because everything’s connecting. I am a doctor who is abandoning medicine for literature, fitfully convinced that I have access to enough interesting words to justify this abandonment. (Doctors do this, I don’t know if you’ve noticed. Maybe they do it because time keeps on defeating life: no matter how diligent or technically cunning they are -- the impossibly delicate filaments, tiny cameras travelling bloodstreams -- their defence of life is brief, is never enoug
From the Publisher
Doctor Bloom's Story, a wry and subtle novel, is a
Knopf Canada New Face of Fiction selection for 2004 and already a
popular and critical favourite. What starts off sounding like a
charming, bittersweet memoir develops rapidly into a complex and
moving book centred on a pressing moral dilemma.
In the first few pages, Dr. Nicolaas Bloom, cardiologist
and would-be writer, describes his life's trajectory: from medical
and literary studies in Leiden, Holland, through practice and
research in Cambridge to, following the death of his wife, a new
life in uptown Toronto. Dr. Bloom's story proper begins in a
writing workshop, taught by his tough-talking neighbour Larry
Logan: Bloom finds himself entranced by one of his young
classmates, a quiet, self-possessed young woman named Sophie
The novel quickly establishes the rhythm it will pursue throughout,
its present-day action in counterpoint with Bloom's memories and
reflections. Bloom works in a downtown medical clinic; he remembers
his late wife and stillborn daughter; he considers his literary
masters, most of all Chekhov; importantly, he meets Larry Logan's
estranged wife Marianne. Then, out for a run in a local ravine, he
sees a woman being beaten up; he has reason to believe it is his
As Bloom and Marianne Logan fall for one another, and Bloom
tentatively pursues his long postponed writing, Sophie's situation
becomes more and more of a concern; soon it has drawn in Larry,
Marianne and others, none of whom are able to step in and help her.
This is in part because, complicating matters, Sophie does not
appear to want to be "rescued." As she puts it, speaking of herself
in a coded, charged conversation in the writing workshop:
"She has a belief. She believes that there are circumstances
which, although they may not appear happy, are part of a the deeper
life…. it would be a mistake, she thinks, to leave these
Sophie's husband, Walter Rollo Maggione, comes to Bloom for cardiac
treatment. Abrasive and arrogant, some twenty-five years older than
Sophie, he is a Swiss psychologist pursuing a doctorate at the
University of Toronto, specializing in Jung. Meanwhile Marianne, a
psychoanalytic psychotherapist, has come to care about Sophie as
deeply as Bloom has.
Bloom and Marianne return from a brief Caribbean vacation to
discover Sophie in the emergency room of Sunnybrook hospital,
bruised and battered, claiming to have fallen down the stairs. Her
husband has also been admitted, after an attack of angina. Attempts
to intervene prove fruitless, but Bloom sees a way he could help
Sophie: as Maggione's physician, he is aware of the subtleties of
his condition, aware that were Maggione to not have the right
medication to hand at the right moment, his life could be in
The novel's central moral question gains shape: given all he knows
about Sophie's situation - about the violence and suffering she
experiences, and her view of it as a kind of religious task - can
Bloom justify "altering the odds"? Can he make it less likely that
Maggione will pull through his next cardiac malfunction? Bloom's
dilemma, carefully examined and disentangled, will haunt readers of
this supple and moving novel long after its resolution.
About the Author
Don Coles is one of Canada's most successful and respected poets.
He studied history at the University of Toronto and took a second
degree at Cambridge University, then spent more than a decade on
the continent in France, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia.
Coles and his wife, Heidi, returned to Canada after the birth of
his first child, and he was invited to join the faculty of York
University's humanities department.
"It turned out, after a worrisome few days, that I liked it very
much, and I was there for more than thirty years," he told the
Globe and Mail in an interview. He was also, for ten
years, Senior Poetry Editor at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
Coles recently turned to fiction, in part out of a desire to work
"in a more generous and pliant space than my usual genre," he told
the National Post. He described the process of writing
Doctor Bloom''s Story as: "A sheer joy. .
. . And I lived in it for eight or nine hours a day for at least
four of the seven days in every week for three years. Not bad for a
person generally considered to be, as I''m belatedly realizing,
Don Coles has published ten books of poetry. He is the recipient of
a Governor General's Award, a Trillium Award and the John Glassco
Prize for Translation.
He lives in Toronto.
“Part crisp thriller, part meditation on writing, Doctor Bloom’s Story is wholly marvellous.” — Maclean’s “A straight-ahead, spryly imagined, tightly written tale of suspense. . . This is fabulous stuff. Doctor Bloom’s Story has countless. . .moments that, in their combination of gaiety and sadness, fix themselves in your imagination. . . . Doctor Bloom is surely one of the most memorable and triumphantly conceived characters in recent Canadian fiction.” — The Globe and Mail “Coles writes so elegantly and so convincingly that we would follow him anywhere.” — The Literary Review of Canada “Coles, who has won many awards for collections of poetry, tells Dr. Bloom’s story with an ear attuned to the rhythms of speech and an admirable eye for detail.” — Quill & Quire “ Doctor Bloom’s Story is, by turns, witty, contemplative, and spirited story telling. One of our finest poets now proves himself to be an accomplished novelist.” —Guy Vanderhaeghe “Any fan of Coles’ poetry will instantly recognize the distinctive, casually sophisticated voice of this novel, the almost off-hand way it gathers a whole range of interests into a compelling whole. Doctor Bloom’s Story is at once a medical mystery tale, an exploration of the limits of love and friendship, and a tribute to the art of writing — all rolled into an eff
1. Consider the narrative voice in which Doctor Bloom's
Story is told. Do you find Dr. Bloom charming,
pretentious, wise or…? Why?
2. Which of the main characters do you find most, or least,
appealing? And which is most, or least, convincing? Why?
3. What is the significance of the various nicknames Bloom gives
himself in the novel? How important is it to the book that he is
trying to be a writer?
4. What do you think of the ending of the novel?
5. Choose one of these themes and discuss how the novel explores
it: religion, violence, religion, emigration, responsibility,
masochism, writing, love.
6. Does Bloom do the right thing? What would you do in his
7. Dr. Coomaraswamy is describing the wounds Maggione inflicts
on Sophie - concealed, hard-to-detect bruising:
She said, steadily, "I picture him labouring over her."
Neither Marianne nor I said a word.
"A kind of artist," Celia said.
What do you think of this passage? What insights does it give into
Maggione, or the other characters' perception of him?
8. Have you read any other novels by writers who are also poets?
How does Doctor Bloom's Story compare with their
efforts? You could consider Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Al
Purdy, etc. (And: how do you think being a poet could affect one's
approach to writing a novel?)
9. What are your criticisms of Doctor Bloom's
10. Dr. Bloom regularly talks about his love of Chekhov, and
many other writers make appearances in his thoughts, from Joyce to
Musil to Böll to Orwell. What do you think is the most important
literary influence on this novel - and which writers does it most
remind you of?